Singer. Songwriter. Frontman. Sideman. Photographer. Guitarist. Honky-tonk hair icon. Ever since he landed his first touring gig as a 12 year-old, Marty Stuart has occupied virtually every single corner of the country music world. He’s backed up Johnny Cash. He’s landed his own mainstream chart hits. In recent years, he’s become a sort of roots-music cult figure, releasing a string of forward-thinking albums – including this month’s Way Out West – that pack their punches by ignoring trends.
“I joined my first band at nine years old,” he tells Chris Shiflett during this week’s episode of Walking the Floor. The podcast covers the full range of Stuart’s career, from his days as a pre-teen picker in Mississippi to the SoCal recording sessions that spawned Way Out West. The two musicians geek out over Telecaster guitars, Mike Campbell and old country legends, making their way through one of the more spirited installments of Walking the Floor.
Below, we’ve honored our weekly ritual of listing a handful of highlights from the podcast. Listen to the world premiere of the episode below, and be sure to catch the final moments, where Stuart and Shiflett team up for a loose version of Waylon Jennings’ “Waymore Blues.”
The Marty Stuart Show, didn’t fare well with younger crowds. . .which suited its creator just fine.
Long before his own variety show hit the airwaves in 2008, Stuart wondered why TV networks refused to launch similar programs. “For years,” he tells Shiflett, “I went around, going, “When will someone do a 21st century version of The Porter Wagoner Show?” When no one stepped up to plate, Stuart created the job himself. The Marty Stuart Show ran for 156 episodes, giving legends like Kitty Wells and Charlie Louvin their final TV appearances. “It entertained the old country audience,” notes Stuart, who hosted the show and performed consistently with his full band. “They got that show, hook, line and sinker. The modern country consumer didn’t know what the hell they were watching.” The Marty Stuart Show‘s refusal to cater to fleeting trends may be one of the reasons the show is now off the air, but its creator is proud he never pandered to his audience – or his city. “It was a very renegade thing to do in the face of that town,” he says.
He’s a serious memorabilia collector.
While touring through Europe during the early Eighties as a member of Johnny Cash’s band, Stuart visited the original Hard Rock Cafe in London. He walked through the front doors and was struck by the amount of memorabilia hanging on the walls. After all, he’d been building a similar collection at home.
“There was a junk store in Nashville on 8th Avenue, where I bought Patsy Cline’s train case for $75,” he says of his childhood years. Later, a teenaged Stuart borrowed money from his mother to buy the stage outfits once worn by Porter Wagoner’s band. His collection continued to grow during his adulthood, inspired not only by the Hard Rock’s stockage of gear, but by his respect for the older generation of country stars.
“It started in the bedroom of a house and now it’s in a warehouse in Mississippi,” he says of his memorabilia, which will eventually find a permanent home at the yet-to-be-constructed Marty Stuart Center in Philadelphia, Mississippi. “There’s probably 20,000 items. Serious stuff.”
Stuart was a touring sideman before he entered high school.
“I started touring with a group called the Sullivan Family Gospel Singers,” he remembers. “They were TV stars down in the south. They were church house Pentecostal bluegrass stars. That summer, we did bluegrass festivals and camp meeting revivals [and] George Wallace campaign rallies. It was wonderful. That’s the summer I fell in love with the road. . . There were girls and applause and a little bit of money at the end of the trip, so I thought, ‘Man, I’m cut out for this.'” Months later, the 14 year-old Stuart landed a job with Lester Flatt’s band, leaving school for good.
Touring with artists like Johnny Cash was an education until itself.
“The thing I noticed about those guys,” Stuart says of bandleaders like Cash, “was it never depended on hit records. They were bigger than all that. They were beyond all that. They had diplomatic status beyond all of those trite things. They were the exception to the rule.” Later, as a solo artist and frontman of his own group, Stuart took those lessons to heart. “When radio hits in my [own] life story slowed down,” he adds, “it freaked me out for a few minutes, but then I thought, ‘Just go back to what you grew up doing. Go bigger. You become the culture instead of the industry.'”
Stuart became Johnny Cash’s son-in-law while still playing in the Man in Black’s band.
Briefly married to Cindy Cash during the mid-Eighties, Stuart doubled as Johnny Cash’s sideman and son-in-law. His employer took it in stride. “He had so many son-in-laws come through that house,” Stuart remembers with a laugh. June Carter was a good sport, too. “She called me up one day,” he adds, “and said, ‘I want to start a band.’ I said, ‘Ok.’ She said, ‘I want you to be in it.’ I said, ‘Tell me about it.’ She says, ‘I wanna call it June Carter and her Ex-Son-in-Laws. It’ll be you, Rodney Crowell and Nick Lowe.’ It never happened, but it was a great idea.”